Of Candles and Flames
“See this flame. The candle will burn until it can no longer and then the flame will be extinguished. But if I pass the flame into another longer candle, the flame continues to burn. The candles pass with time, but the flame goes on. The candle flame is always the same flame, and yet it is always different. The candle is the body. The flame is [the soul].”
Buddhist Monk (recounted in The Spiritual Universe by Fred Alan Wolf)
My aunt, Elaine, is dying. Her flame has burned brightly for 87 years, and no doubt will continue to burn once it leaves her body. She is at the point right now of seeing and speaking with those who have already made the transition. They are no doubt gathered and waiting for her to join them. I find this process, one I have seen repeatedly with other members of my family, very comforting. The souls of loved ones come to comfort and reassure the one who is struggling to leave.
This particular aunt, the last of my parent's generation, has lived what, in my world view, is an heroic life. She gave birth to seven babies, only four of whom survived infancy. Though poor, she summoned the courage to take her children and leave an abusive marriage. She worked in factories and laundries to make enough money to raise them. All four turned out to be successful and decent human beings. “Lane” survived stage four ovarian cancer in her forties—in the days when cobalt was the only treatment. She survived crippling depression and life-long poverty. She was never a proud person except when it came to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren—enough of them, I swear, to fill a gymnasium. She learned to play video games in her sixties so that she could entertain all those young'uns, including my own two sons. She could beat all of them at shooting pool. Not surprisingly, she has been in hospice since May 21st, because her candle refuses to extinguish before it's dog-gone good and ready. In my view, she's enjoying being taken care of for the first time in her life; may as well savor it for a while longer. But now the soul-escort has gathered, so it won't be long. I wish her God speed.
I love the description this Buddhist monk gave to children describing the soul as the flame and the candle as the body. In the Buddhist tradition, the soul reincarnates into another body. In some traditions, the soul lives all its lifetimes at once, since the dimension in which the soul exists is not bound by the constructs of time and space. And of course, in Christianity, the soul returns to God. Who knows? I don't. But I do know this—when we make that transition, when our candle burns out, we are not alone. Those who loved us in this lifetime are right there cheering us on, holding us by the hand, saying, “Come on, time's a wasting! We've got things to do!” That, I've seen with my own eyes.
In the Spirit,